Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sleeping with Bread: Imperfectly

There's been a lot on my mind lately. Okay. Who am I kidding? I always have a lot on my mind. Let me rephrase that to say there has been a lot weighing on me lately. These weighing-down things are multiple in nature but some of them have led me to ruminate about the nature of imperfection.

My family is imperfect. When I was a child, though, I didn't know that. I knew that I had lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. I knew I had a grandma and grandpa I adored. I didn't have a father, but because I had never had a father living with me, I didn't know the difference. I loved family get-togethers. There was always a lot of laughter and joy—and more laughter.

As I grew older, two things happened. One, my family dispersed. Picking up and moving, one family at a time. Most of them to Oklahoma. So, the first real change was its reduction in size. The next big change was that as I grew up, my perceptions of them changed. I began to see the dysfunction. I started hearing the family secrets. Still, I loved them fiercely. I was now grown up and growing older. Loved ones died. More secrets. More dysfunction. And Pain. The secrets were painful. I was a part of the dysfunction and didn't know how to deal with it.

The pain became a wall keeping me from feeling love for some of the people in my family. I'm not sure that I have torn that wall down yet. But I have always felt that I wasn't released from my family. I have no doubts that there are times when you have to leave your family behind. For your sanity. For your safety.  But I've never felt that. Not yet. I've talked to enough people to know that my specific experiences may be unique but the nature of them is not. Many, many people experience the type of dysfunction I do in my family.

Yet even in the midst of all that dysfunction, there is joy… and love. There are still hugs and laughter and joy. It isn't the same as I remember as a child. But it is there… and so I stay.

When I became a Christian, I was still growing up. 15 years old. I don't think I thought about the church and whether or not it was perfect. Looking back though, I can see that I assumed the church was perfect. It became another home for me. A refuge.

I grew up and older, and just like with my family, I saw changes in my new church family. We dispersed. People moved to different churches. People left the church altogether. I moved from the church I attended in high school for no better reason than I thought I needed to start over somewhere new where the bad habits and attitudes I had developed with some of my friends would not be such a temptation—gossip, negative attitudes, etc.

I grew up some more and began volunteering and then working at a church. My perceptions of the people there began to change. I saw the imperfections in how they dealt with each other. Worse yet, I saw the imperfections in the ministers around me. I started hearing church secrets. It wasn't always easy but it was actually a good thing to experience—a catalyst for maturity, a bigger perspective.

I became part of a church plant. We started out with high ideals, a lot of energy, and a determination to do things the "right way." But eventually the dysfunction I thought I'd left behind at my old church bubbled up. Some issues were ones I realized that all churches experience. Some were unique to the situation. And they hurt. Badly. The body of Christ which is supposed to be united, nipped and bit and spat at each other. The church got smaller… and smaller… and smaller. People left because of their anger. People left because the worship wasn't the same. People left because there wasn't the right menu of church goods and services available to them. People just left. The leadership prayed and worked and prayed.

A remnant remain. Some really amazing people who, for whatever reason, have called this church home and chosen to love it—in spite of its imperfections. They love it well and they, apparently, have not felt like anything that has happened as been enough that they need to leave.

All of this above is for you to understand that…

In the last week, I have felt the most love for my little church, my hurting church. I have felt love for the wonderful people who've chosen to look past the numbers, and the lack of a menu of services, and the imperfect people. They've chosen to stay put and love God and each other in our church community.


In this last week, I have felt the least love over the rumors I have heard. Rumors that some who have left are saying that God is no longer at my church. I have grieved over the people who act as if their leaving didn't matter, who carry on as if nothing is different, who don't seem to have any doubts of their rightness, who question the decisions of those who haven't left yet.  I am tired of pointing fingers and accusations.

And finally, I am left with my struggle. My struggle to deal with my anger and grief because people wouldn't stay and love my imperfect church. My beautiful church. And I have so many opinions and judgments about all that. But the biggest problem I have is that I know I am supposed to love those people. Those leaving people. Those imperfect people.

Imperfect like my church.

Imperfect like me.

And I don't quite know how yet.


Mel said...

Sometimes I need to be reminded that folks are dancing just as fast as they can...thank you for that reminder.

*hugs and prayers*

Anonymous said...

I feel a keen sense of loss when close groups disperse, even under positive circumstances. I would think that this was true of most people, but then again, so many make the choice to start again, start over, start fresh, that maybe it is not so.

If I were a bread, I'd be a sourdough - always carrying a bit of the old, chunking off pieces to get others started.

Another blogger this week asked "how do you worship? where do you find divine?" and while my answer to the second question is through eclecticism, I was surprised to find myself saying that I believe community is the key.

Or rather, accepting imperfection, learning to live with it, is the key. Because it's everywhere.

John Ross said...

Mary Lue,

I have often read your postings with the feeling that "here is a person who has made all those right decisions in her life. A person who has stayed in school, and will soon reap the benefits of those right decisions" And yes, I sometimes see that as a person who is somehow above the state my own decisions have left me in. I have perceived you as a person whose struggles are more of the day to day aceiving goals kind than the dealing with personal doubts and pain kind that I have.

What has that got to do with your 9/23 posting? That posting has given me new perspectives into who you are, and what you as a caring, feeling person struggle with. As we all struggle. As I struggle. Certainly with different, though sometimes similar issues, but with the same kinds of doubts and pains.

Thank you for that.

I've heard it said that we like people for their strengths, but we love them for their weaknesses.

soemthing about a common human connection, a shared state of imperfection perhaps.

I've also heard it said that "All things work to the good, for those who love God."

I hope that doesn't sound too trite.

I hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you are grieving for you past and your present. I think it laudable that you are honouring your church, and your faith. I hope you find your piece of peace.

Also, I was sidetracked by your Scenic View Link. Catherine Tate is awesome -- she may bring me back to being a Dr Who-ite.

atypical said...

I get it (though twice we have actually been on the leaving end of things...with a church that was doing the planting). Rumors and secrets ARE hard.

I guess, though, that I am sometimes in need of them lest I place people on pedestals which allow me to revere from a distance rather than loving from an arm's reach.

Interesting how the shock of the secret learned presents us with the choice of grumbling from a distance or trying, in our imperfection, to allow God's unconditional love to flow through us - a distance and an arm's reach on both sides of the equation it would seem.

I am sad to say that I have always been better at a distance (even if I do forgive and love from my underground bunker).

-t (praying for you)

Anonymous said...

Ahh, Mary. I deeply feel your heartache over our church.

Although I am not there, I understand and hear of the same things.It's painful.

Terry and I do not see clearly what God's intention is with our church; however, I know that this is a season of life like all others...

I also know, He is in control. He is there amongst us with purpose and intention.

Ecc. 3
There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance...


edj said...

This lesson that you are talking about was one that was very difficult for me to learn, yet I think it's an important part of maturity for us all--that people will always, ultimately, let us down, and only God is perfect, and that in loving others in their imperfections we are acknowledging our own. (if that makes sense. It's late)
I ABSOLUTELY hate messy church stuff. Good for you for sticking with it. Good luck!

Lamont said...

Ah, on leaving church and having had to leave mine a few months ago. After the head spinning 5 day notice and lay off, I was shell shocked and needed to look forward - it was too hard to go back and see it all winding down. Our circumstances are not the same, but transition - more and more of it- is there for all of us.
Praying for the church - yours, mine ours and loving in the midst of our imperfection.